Two bodies, survivor discovered after Sherbrooke plant fire

Posted By: CJAD · 11/8/2012 8:45:00 PM

A powerful explosion that was heard across a city and in neighbouring suburbs ripped through an industrial plant
Thursday, triggering a fire that killed at least two people.

Their bodies were found in the rubble, but a survivor was also discovered.

17 people were sent to hospital.

Five people suffered serious burns and one was said to be in critical condition.

The fire produced a thick, dark cloud of toxic smoke.

The incident occurred in the Eastern Townships at the Sherbrooke processing plant belonging to Neptune Technologies & Bioressources, which produces health products such as Omega-3
derived from marine life.

The local 911 line was flooded with a record number of calls, authorities said.

Martin Carrier, a Sherbrooke police spokesman, said more than 100 people in Sherbrooke and surrounding suburbs phoned within a minute.

"They heard the explosion,'' Carrier said.

"It was a big noise.

A lot of black smoke. You could see it everywhere in the city.''

When first responders arrived at the plant, they beheld a scene of devastation as workers fled for safety.

Firefighters probed the tangled building carefully, looking for potential victims as they battled the blaze.

"We've got people injured inside, we've got people injured outside,'' Carrier said.

"Some were walking, helped by another. It was a chaotic scene,'' he said.

"Pretty tough.''

The Sherbrooke blaze was potent enough that smoke kept drifting up for hours, even after fire crews had contained the flames, while an acrid stench continued to hover in the air.

The plant lay in ruins.

The only walls that remained standing were scorched black by the flames.

"Just looking at the damage to the building you can see it was probably very violent,'' said Gaetan Drouin, head of the local fire service.

"Even before the 911 calls came in (one fire station) already had many firefighters on the way.

They set off the alarm bells just from seeing the plume of smoke that shot up into the sky.''

All 65 of the Neptune company employees were accounted for.

In the minutes following the blaze several people were feared to be missing, but they were later found.

Fears about toxic smoke stemmed from the plant's 15,000-litre reserve of acetone, a flammable substance consumed by the fire.

When ingested, acetone can cause irritation.

However, local health officials downplayed the toxic threat, suggesting people might potentially experience headaches or nausea but little else
because of the smoke.

Environment Quebec said it was actually more concerned about the possibility of soil or water contamination than of the risk associated with breathing the air near the blast site.

It's unclear what caused the explosion.

There was at least one large blast followed by a series of smaller ones.

Police set up a security perimeter and cleared the area around the industrial park.

Within minutes of the blast, police said, employees had been evacuated from the facility and supervisors were performing a head count outdoors.

Residents were asked to avoid the area around the industrial park.

"We're asking people to stay away... these are possibly toxic clouds,'' said Rene Dubreuil of the Sherbrooke police.

The Laval-based company announced plans last year to expand its Sherbrooke facility.

The federal government supported the project with an interest-free loan and the Quebec government provided a grant, according to an announcement made earlier this year by then-premier Jean Charest.



Picture credit: Kayla Vangorkum

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